Your Credit Union at 100 Years Young

In June 1918, Progressive Credit Union was first formed in the Bronx alongside seven others as a wave of populism fueled the credit union movement.

PCU’s original charter, dating from 1918.

Of these peer financial institutions that were founded along side PCU, Progressive is the only financial institution that was able to weather the fiscal ups and downs of the 20th century. In the 1930’s, the Great Depression eliminated most of the early credit unions, and subsequent recessions put further economic pressure on those that survived.

Only one came close to keeping pace with the historic run –  East New York Commercial Credit Union, based at 809 Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn. East NY CCU maintained a presence in the New York metropolitan area until it dissolved shortly after they celebrated their 71st year in 1989.

Historic article from the 1920s outlining the formation of multiple NY-based credit unions, including Progressive.

In the early days, Progressive got it’s start by working with immigrants in New York’s blossoming garment districts. As William Sayles wrote in 2002’s Small Business: The New Frontier, the business climate in the early twentieth century was ripe for the services a credit union can provide:

“In the Bronx, New York City, small business owners in the garment industry, many of them immigrants, were having a difficult time raising the capital needed to participate in what was rapidly becoming a thriving industry. Banks were unwilling to lend money to people of modest means, and few garment industry workers, despite their considerable skills, had the collateral to attract the attention of traditional financial institutions.”

Thanks to unparalleled business savvy, PCU expanded quickly. “Progressive Credit Union grew, providing the capital its members needed to purchase sewing machines, fabrics and other necessary business supplies,” Sayles wrote, noting that the credit union was unique when compared to the institutions that formed after the passage of the 1934 Federal Credit Union Act.

At first, the focus was initially on business lending. “Business lending and other services therefore became the cornerstone of the credit union’s operations,” Sayles said. By 1959, the PCU was a $500,000 financial institution, and the credit union’s board of directors decided to hire a full time treasurer/manager and seek additional business opportunities.

Aaron Familant, an accountant by training, assumed leadership duties of PCU, and set the stage for explosive growth the institution saw in the coming decades. In 1961, both Familant and the board of directors saw the booming transportation market as a way to not only help fuel entrepreneurship in New York, but help expand PCU’s membership and grow the credit union.

During his leadership tenure, Aaron Familant was a leader of the Credit Union movement for nearly 50 years as Treasurer and Board Member of Progressive Credit Union. As such, Familant took the credit union from a local Bronx institution to national prominence.

A Letter from the NCUA welcoming PCU into the “growing family of insured credit unions.”

Over time, Familant became an early leader in the credit union movement, serving as President of the New York State Credit Union league, a director to the Credit Union National Association, as well as on the Boards of Excelsior, Central, Greater New York and Empire Corporate Federal Credit Unions. He was also the first Credit Union professional to serve on the New York State Banking Board, having been appointed by former governor, Mario Cuomo. In each role, Familant championed the credit union cause.

By the early 1970’s, PCU’s membership was protected by the National Credit Union Administration, ensuring that all member savings and deposits were backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.

In the early 1980s, Familant’s son Robert, who had been raised within the credit union industry under his father’s tutelage, assumed leadership responsibilities at PCU. Over the course of his career, the younger Familant strengthened the institution’s bonds with the transportation industry, and expanded PCU’s scope of membership across the country.

The cover of PCU’s 1983 Annual Report

“My father really believed in the credit union movement,” Robert said to Credit Union Times in July 2006 when his father passed at the age of 85. “He was a soldier in the movement. He felt when a credit union was appropriately used, it changed people’s lives.”

Robert also oversaw the credit union’s unprecedented growth, including the purchase of PCU’s headquarters located at 131 W 33rd Street in Manhattan in the May 2011.

During this time, credit union industry publications routinely showcased PCU’s growth model as a high-water mark for the movement’s success. PCU routinely broke industry records, including ranking first for largest share balance in 2014 among institutions over $20 million in assets.

“We’ve had that distinction numerous times,” Familant said to Credit Union Times at the time. “I know average share balance is a statistic that’s often thrown around, but I’ve never really been a big fan of statistics based on the number of members.”

PCU Treasurer/CEO Robert Familant speaking at the credit union’s 95th Annual meeting.

As reported by at the time, Callahan & Associates found that Progressive’s average share balance was $74,291 as of June 2014, and total shares topped the $293 million mark.

Since then, the medallion industry has experienced unprecedented challenges thanks to the rise of ride hailing apps like Uber or Lyft. In today’s evolving market, some medallion lenders have struggled to cope – and many of PCU’s peers have, as was the case in 1918, had experienced difficulty transitioning to ever-changing conditions. To this day, management is actively engaged with the sector, and is looking to better adapt it to the needs of the 21st century consumer.

Thanks to the legacy of financial expertise and professionalism, PCU is looking forward to a bright future that will showcase a new direction for the institution.

Aside from the restructuring of the existing medallion portfolio, PCU is in the process of building up a diverse scope of new financial products and services to better serve our membership. These offerings include the creation of an all-new consumer loan program, our offering and development of share certificate and money market accounts that maximize our members savings, and a slew of technological enhancements that make it easier for both us and our members to properly benefit from PCU’s open charter, a rarity in the credit union industry that allows for a relatively open field of membership. These actions collectively allow for new avenues of growth – an exciting prospect for the 100 year-old financial institution that has reinvented itself before, and is in the process of doing it once again.

PCU is also working to expand it’s physical presence, offering membership even easier access to their fiscal services. While based in Manhattan, PCU is working with credit union partners in order to build the necessary infrastructure to service our members across the United States.

In celebration of PCU’s 100th year, members of the credit union joined staff, executive leadership, and the board of directors at our 100th annual meeting. The event was held on Tuesday, April 24th at 7:00 PM at 131 West 33rd Street on the second floor.